Classics: The Straight Path to Hell!

Jerome, Epistles 2.30:

When several years earlier I had, for the kingdom of heaven, separated myself from home, from my parents, from my sister, from my relations, and – what is more difficult than this – from the habit of taking finer food, and as I was heading as a soldier to fight for Jerusalem, I found that I missed the library which I had created in Rome with the utmost zeal and labor. After depriving myself of sleep for several nights, and after the tears which the recollection of my past sings brought to my eyes, I took Plautus up in my hands. If ever I returned to myself and began to read the Prophets, their unrefined speech made my hair stand on end. And because I could not see the light with my blind eyes, I thought it was not the fault of those eyes, but of the sun. Thus while the ancient serpent deceived me, a fever spread through my marrow in the middle of Lent and waged war upon my exhausted body. And without any rest (which seems also incredible to say), it ate away at my wretched limbs to such a degree that I could barely cling to my bones. My funeral was being prepared, and the vital heat of my soul, with my whole body now freezing, remained beating only in my lukewarm little heart.

Suddenly, I was taken in spirit and dragged to the seat of a judge. There was so much light, so much shining from the clarity of those standing around, that I threw myself to the floor and did not dare to glance up. When asked about my condition, I responded that I was a Christian. And he who was presiding as judge said, ‘You lie! You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian. For where your treasure is, there too is your heart (Matth. 6.21).’ There I stood silent, and amidst my lashings, I thought over that little verse: “Who will grant anything to you in Hell?” (Ps. 6.6)

It starts with Cicero and ends with searing pain!

Cum ante annos plurimos domo, parentibus sorore, cognatis, et quod his difficilius est, consuetudine lautioris cibi, propter coelorum me regna castrassem, et Jerosolymam militaturus pergerem, Bibliotheca, quam mihi Romae summo studio ac labore confeceram, carere omnino non poteram. Itaque miser ego lecturus Tullium, jejunabam. Post noctium crebras vigilias, post lacrymas, quas mihi praeteritorum recordatio peccatorum ex imis visceribus eruebat, Plautus sumebatur in manus . Si quando in memetipsum reversus, Prophetas legere coepissem, sermo horrebat incultus; et quia lumen caecis oculis non videbam, non oculorum putabam culpam esse, sed solis. Dum ita me antiquus serpens [al. hostis] illuderet, in media ferme Quadragesima medullis infusa febris, corpus invasit exhaustum: et sine ulla requie (quod dictu quoque incredibile sit) sic infelicia membra depasta est, ut ossibus vix haererem. Interim parantur exequiae, et vitalis animae calor, toto frigescente jam corpore, in solo tantum tepente pectusculo palpitabat: Cum subito raptus in spiritu, ad tribunal judicis pertrahor; ubi tantum luminis, et tantum erat ex circumstantium claritate fulgoris, ut projectus in terram, sursum aspicere non auderem. Interrogatus de conditione, Christianum me esse respondi. Et ille qui praesidebat: Mentiris, ait, Ciceronianus es, non Christianus: ubi enim thesaurus tuus, ibi et cor tuum (Matth. 6. 21). Illico obmutui, et inter verbera (nam caedi me jusserat) conscientiae magis igne torquebar, illum mecum versiculum reputans: “In inferno autem quis confitebitur tibi” (Ps. 6. 6)

Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

Thomas Aquinas, Letter on a Method of Study

Because you have asked me, Ioannes, my dearest companion in Christ, in what manner it is proper for you to study in acquiring a treasury of knowledge, such a plan is handed on from me to you: that you should choose to enter through little streams, and not suddenly into the sea, because it is proper that one come gradually through the easier things to the more difficult ones.

This is, therefore, my advice and your instruction. I order you to be slow in speech and slow in acceding to the mouthpiece. Embrace purity of conscience. Do not allow yourself to be free for speech. You should frequently esteem the wine cellar if you wish to be brought into it. Present yourself as lovable to everyone. Don’t look at all deeply into the deeds of others. Don’t show yourself as very familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and offers material for subtraction from study. Don’t in any way get yourself embroiled in secular words or deeds. Don’t forget to follow the footsteps of the holy and the good. Don’t consider from whom you are hearing something, but commend to memory whatever good is spoken.

Make sure that you understand what you read and hear. Make yourself certain about doubtful things. Try to store up whatever you can in the wardrobe of your mind as if you wanted to fill up a jar. Don’t seek things higher than your station. Following these steps, you will profer and lead forth the useful blooms and fruits on the vine of the God of Heavenly Hosts as long as you live. If you will have followed all of this eagerly, you will be able to attain what you affect.

St-thomas-aquinas.jpg

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas

Argo Navis & the Abolished Constellations

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Møenlight Sonata’, curated by René Block. Kunsthal 44Møen, Møen, Denmark, 2018. Courtesy Galerie Volker Diehl.

For B.Y. & A.Y., the star hunters.

Homer, Odyssey, XII, 69-72

οἴη δὴ κείνη γε παρέπλω ποντοπόρος νηῦς,
Ἀργὼ πᾶσι μέλουσα, παρ᾽ Αἰήταο πλέουσα.
καὶ νύ κε τὴν ἔνθ᾽ ὦκα βάλεν μεγάλας ποτὶ πέτρας,
ἀλλ᾽ Ἥρη παρέπεμψεν, ἐπεὶ φίλος ἦεν Ἰήσων.

Only the famous Argo sailed through there
Returning from the visit with Aeetes.
The current hurdled the ship towards the rocks,
But Hera, who loved Jason, led them safe.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica I, 109-114

αὐτή μιν Τριτωνὶς ἀριστήων ἐς ὅμιλον
ὦρσεν Ἀθηναίη, μετὰ δ᾽ ἤλυθεν ἐλδομένοισιν.
αὐτὴ γὰρ καὶ νῆα θοὴν κάμε: σὺν δέ οἱ Ἄργος
τεῦξεν Ἀρεστορίδης κείνης ὑποθημοσύνῃσιν.
τῶ καὶ πασάων προφερεστάτη ἔπλετο νηῶν,
ὅσσαι ὑπ᾽ εἰρεσίῃσιν ἐπειρήσαντο θαλάσσης.

Tritonian Athena herself urged him to join the band of chiefs,
And he came among them a welcome comrade.
She herself too fashioned the swift ship;
And with her Argus, son of Arestor, wrought it by her counsels.
Wherefore it proved the most excellent of all ships,
That have made trial of the sea with oars.

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

Who invented the sky? The only way to answer this question would be like this — the first person who looked up and wondered. Socrates tells us in Plato’s Theaetetus (Plat. Theaet. 155d), μάλα γὰρ φιλοσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, τὸ θαυμάζειν: οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας ἢ αὕτη, καὶ ἔοικεν ὁ τὴν Ἶριν Θαύμαντος ἔκγονον φήσας οὐ κακῶς γενεαλογεῖν, namely: “For this feeling of wonder shows that you are a philosopher, since wonder is the only beginning of philosophy, and he who said that Iris was the child of Thaumas made a good genealogy.” Iris was a messenger of the heavens, so the sky was never too far away for those who wonder. But philosophy arrives too late, and we’re looking at an earlier world, populated with gods, heroes and stars; a world that had already eclipsed in Plato’s time. Was it perhaps at the end of the Ice Age when the brain cortex of the first modern humans began articulating symbolic orders?

An answer is impossible to come by, but the stars in the sky have lived with us for a long time, and we could never unsee them. That is, paradoxically, until the modern age, when, after thousands of years of dreams and wonders, we launched ourselves into space, in an attempt to escape from the condition of being human. Out there we realized to our despair (and our newly discovered indifference too) that there was no such a thing as the sky; this was no transcendental space or a place at all, but rather, everything that is above the surface of the earth, a combination of atmospheric layers and the infinite void. The infinite is not even an adequate concept, for the physical concept of time has no relevance for the individual person, and no use except in space physics. With the conquest of heaven, a direct consequence of the space and arms race, the sky went dimmer, if not altogether silent. Yet the void remains. 

But the history of the void, with its now missing stars and constellations, is not a history of physics, as much as a story of our puzzling earthly odyssey, as astronomer John C. Barentine tells us: “However old the constellations, it is safe to conclude that they have long journeyed with us on our path to becoming human.” Constellations are some of the oldest cultural inventions of humans, predating writing and social organization (what once was called civilization). Barentine continues: “The presumably oldest figures in existence, such as the Hunter and the Bull, refer to a time in human  history before the emergence of settled agricultural communities. It is probably no coincidence that Orion and Taurus reflect themes in the oldest extant works of art: the human form and game animals.” Already at the time of the Neolithic revolution, 12,000 years ago, understanding cues in the sky about the seasonal calendar was crucial to the survival of early humans. 

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

Our oldest accounts of constellations and stars date back to the Middle Bronze Age and the list of Sumerian names suggest they were drawn from an earlier source. In the Mesopotamian text “Prayer to the Gods of the Night” (1700 BC), we hear of the Arrow (the star Sirius), the Yoke (the star Arcturus), the Stars (the Pleiades star cluster), or the True Shepherd of Anu (Orion). Think about the long journey of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, known to Homer as the autumn star (Hom. Il. 5.1-5), and to Egyptians and Greeks as the “Dog star”. Its heliacal rise, connected with an extremely hot season at the end of summer, was known not only to Homer and Hesiod but to Aeschylus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Theognis, Eratosthenes, Nonnus and the folk tales about the star and its hot season survive as late as Anna Komnene’s Alexiad in the Byzantine period. Located in the constellation Canis Major, Sirius is still visible to the naked eye.

In the Shield of Achilles (Hom. Il. 18.478-608), provided by Hephaestus in the Iliad, and the first example of ekphrasis, Homer describes in its first layer, a number of constellations: Orion and the Bear, the star clusters of the Pleiades and the Hyades. A telling star-struck passage in the ekphrasis, ἥ τ᾽ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τ᾽ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει (Hom. Il. 18-488), “She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion”, reappears in identical form in the Odyssey in a crucial moment, when the nymph Calypso is sending Odysseus from the island of Ogygia, and instructs him to keep on the left side the constellation of the Bear (Hom. Od. 5.270-277), without specifying whether he meant the Little Bear or the Great Bear, in what is the only passage in the epic that refers to stellar navigation. For seventeen days he sailed over the sea, and then on the eighteenth day the land of the Phaeacians appeared nearest to him.

Most of the constellations referred to in these passages have come down to us in Ptolemy’s Almagest, and survived unchallenged for some fourteen centuries, as the cosmological model underwent certain revisions (the geocentric model is of course completely debased, but the Homeric cosmology of the earth as a flat disk surrounded by an ocean and in between two layers of stars, is surprisingly similar to the current model of the Milky Way). The birth of the contemporary sky that begins with the Copernican revolution and ends with Trevor Paglen’s “The Last Pictures” (the sky as a junkyard of dead satellites), arrived also with discoveries of new stars and constellations, adding up to the 48 Ptolemaic constellations. But constellations are not discovered, they’re imaginary bodies. Ptolemy missed an entire quarter of the sky, and this information could only be added during the colonial voyages in the 16th century.

Our current knowledge of astrophysics insists on the standardization of stars and constellations for the sake of the photographic process, but in fact, tells us that not only are constellations imaginary, but they also serve no purpose whatsoever in astronomy. Why do we insist then on the star map? Russian painter Alexandra Paperno turned to the star maps at the beginning of her career in the early 2000s, not necessarily out of an interest in the vast cosmic space and our perception of the structure of the universe, but from a vantage point that resembles more an architecture of first principles, with primary and secondary qualities: What are pictorial spaces? What is an empty space? What are spaces generally? Living as we are, in a moment largely defined by hyper-metaphors of time such as acceleration, apocalypse and the instant, our relationship to space is tawdry and unimaginative; space is a site of incarceration.

Alexandra Paperno. Argo Navis (from ‘Abolished Constellations’ series), 2016. Ink on paper, 76×56 cm

But our living spaces have little to do with the Aristotelian metaphors of place around the line and the point, or the fixed abode or point of origin in the myth: Our spaces are devoured by multiple overlapping temporalities, and are embedded in a percolation of spatiotemporal continuity, like a crumpled handkerchief, to use a metaphor of Michel Serres, out of which a viscous substance oozes out that contains the present as debris. In the Star Maps (2003-2005), Paperno captures what Petrus Schaesberg called the misty uncertainty of the sky, following two central interrelated ideas: First, the scant appearance of the starry sky in the history of representation of space in general as we have received it from Western painting, and secondly, the Kantian notion of the sublime, as an aesthetic category beyond the senses. The modern pictorial space resembles the stellar void: It’s unarticulated, ambiguous but never absent.

During Paperno’s research on star maps, the realization that different astronomical atlases and maps contained different constellations in the early modern period, and a curious art historical reference, the minor constellations Sculptor and Pictor (included in the Star Maps), discovered by French astronomer Abbé Nicholas Louis de Lacaille in the 1750s, and located in the southern hemisphere, led to an amazing revelation: As astronomical societies were being modernized throughout the Western world, in 1922, the modern map of 88 constellations was adopted (it was agreed that no more constellations would be added) and then more than 50 constellations, some dating back to antiquity, but for the most part coined by American and European astronomers mapping the southern skies, were abolished for a variety of reasons. Some of these were considered inaccurate, ambiguous, too faint, or too large. Looking at earlier star maps, the Russian painter carefully recomposed the fifty-one constellations as single wooden panels (also executed on paper in a different iteration).    

Many of these constellations are unfamiliar to us, with their Latin names, such as “Gladii Electorales Saxonici” (Crossed swords of the Electorate of Saxony, d. 1684, by Gottfried Kirch), “Machina Electrica” or “Officina Typographica” (Electricity Generator and Printshop, d. 1800 and 1801, by Johann Elert Bode), but the style of christening the stars gives us a lot of information about the ambitions of the Enlightenment era and the scientific revolutions. At the heart of Paperno’s project, however, there’s no stars as an object of contemplation but a void of knowledge and consciousness: How would it be possible to abolish something that in fact never existed? An international bureaucracy of knowledge dethroned an imaginary which, however impractical for modern science, was richly embedded in the fabric of our historicity, and the beginning of wonder, from an era when we began to search our yet unfinished destiny on earth. 

Although the sky, or rather, the void, is alive and not static (our galaxy is not necessarily too privileged a location for sighting stars, being too far away from the center of star formations, a place where life would be impossible), all the Ptolemaic constellations survived into the modern map, with the exception of one: “Argo Novis”, known since early antiquity under different names. It was considered unwieldy by science as De Lacaille explained in 1763, from his observation point in Cape Town, South Africa (there he asserted the position of nearly 10,000 stars), that there were more than a hundred and sixty stars in it, and it was initially broken into three different constellations Carina, Pupis, and Vela; Pyxis Nautica was added later. The Argo Novis was not abolished, but dismantled. Yet the history of the constellation and its accompanying myth (we are unable to ascertain which came first), dates back to the earliest era of transmissions and transformations in the Near East.  

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

A discoverer of constellations himself, Johann Elert Bode tells us in 1801: “This figure commemorates the famous ship of antiquity, which was built according to legend at the command of Minerva and Neptune in Thessaly from Argo, and it is that which the Greek hero Jason and the Argonauts used to collect the Golden Fleece from the place of the eastern shore of the Black Sea known as Colchis.” Argo Navis as a constellation appears first in a list by Eudoxus of Cnidus in the 4th century BC, and the ship was known to the author of the Odyssey. In a passage concerning the witchlike goddess Circe (Hom. Od. 12.69-72), as she is giving Odysseus instructions for his return voyage, she explains that the Sirens are located between Scylla and Charbydis, adding that there is only one seafaring ship that has ever passed through, and that is the Argo, with the intervention of Hera, who loved the argonaut Jason.

[For further details on the episode of the Sirens, see my “Archipelagos of Time: On the Song of the Sirens”

The ship was thought to be a variety of galley, an oceangoing craft with a shallow draft, low profile and long narrow hull (Barentine), and according to Eratosthenes, the constellation represented the first ship to sail the ocean, long before Jason’s time. A myth of the construction of the ship was relayed by Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica, claiming that its builder was Argus, under the supervision of Athena (Apollon. 1.109-114). The Argonautica, composed in the 3rd century AD, is the only surviving epic poem of the Hellenistic era, incorporating Apollonius Rhodius’ research into geography, Homeric literature and Greek ethnography. Its most enduring innovation upon the Greek epic is the possibility of love between a hero and a heroine, exemplified in the vivacious story of Jason and Medea, but the story was well known in a much earlier period, and the myth of the Argonauts underlies the Homeric epic as a memory source. 

Jason’s father Aeson was removed from the throne by his brother Pelias, and Jason was then entrusted to the centaur Chiron. After his upbringing with the centaur, and learning of his true story, Jason set for Iolcus, and upon confronting Pelias, the king devised for him the toil of an impossibly difficult voyage, in order that he might lose his home-return among strangers or at sea, with a mission to find the Golden Fleece. Jason visited Hera at Dodona, and with her help, Athena would have the ship built from pine trees grown on Mount Pelion, and he assembled a crew with as many heroes as he could find, known as the Argonauts. At last they reached Colchis and presented their demand to King Aetes, but unwilling to part with his most prized possession, the king declared Jason would have to catch and subdue two fire-breathing bulls dedicated to Hephaestus and use the bulls to plow a stony field sacred to Ares. 

Alexandra Paperno, Pictor, (from the Star Maps Series), 2003, mixed media on canvas, 150×120 cm

But there would be more: He would have to sow the field with dragon’s teeth and then slay the army of giants that would rise. Finally, after defeating the guardian dragon, the Fleece would be his. Jason was then enchanted with the king’s daughter Medea, and agreed to marry her in exchange for her help (she’s a skilled sorceress). With the fleece in hand, Jason, Medea and the Argonauts set off from Colchis, taking Absyrtus, the king’s only son, as a hostage. A Colchian vessel set off in pursuit of the Argo and easily overtook it, and sensing that the end was near, Medea killed Absyrtus, dropping pieces of the body overboard. As expected from an epic, the Argo was led off as a punishment and a number of storms were sent by Zeus, and then Jason is told they should seek ritual purification with Circe, the famous nymph living on the island of Aeaea, whom we know well from the Odyssey. 

[The episode of Circe in the Odyssey is one of the main events in my parafiction, “The Charonion”]

In Book IV of the Argonautica, the Argonauts find Circe bathing in salt water, surrounded by wild animals. The goddess invites Jason, Medea and the Argonauts into her mansion, and without any further ado, they show her the bloody sword used to cut the body of Absyrtus, and Circe realizes quickly enough that they have come in order to be purified of murder. After the purification, Medea tells Circe of their toll in great details, but omits the murder of Absyrtus. Circe knows the truth and disapproves of their crime, but on account of her kinship with Medea, she promises to cause them no harm and orders them to depart from her island immediately. It seems as if after the visit to Aeaea, the Argonautica comes to a happy conclusion in Thessaly, but ambiguous accounts remain, telling of intrigues, murders, escapes and the rise of the ship to heaven as a constellation, or another version in which a beam from the Argo’s stern detaches and kills Jason instantly while he slept under a tree. 

The long journey of the Argo Navis in the mythography, protracted, inconclusive, and ultimately unfinishable, always reminds me of the liminal space of Paperno’s Abolished Constellations. In its first argonautic expedition, the Argo Navis alongside the other fifty abolished constellations (let us name a few more: Keeper of Harvests, Pendulum Clock, Marble Sculpture, Tigris River), were displayed in 2016, at a derelict unconsecrated 8th century church linked to the now extinct Albanian-Scythian Christian community, in a scientific village home to the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Large Altazimuth Telescope (for several years the largest single primary optical reflecting telescope in the world, but now an anachronism) in Nizhny Arkhyz, perched on the mountains of the northern Caucasus. The panels were assembled as a grid construction that resembles an altarpiece, doubling up the sense of what is meant by heavenly. A heaven that has fallen, an abolished heaven.

It was an impenetrable site… A flight from Moscow to the resort town of Mineralnye Voda, followed by long bus journeys in the mountains, and an hour-long walk inside the terrain of Lower Arkhyz, in a frosty autumn, crossing small rivulets and mud passages, in order to arrive at an altarpiece to something that doesn’t exist anymore because in fact it was never real – the gods are dead. This speaks to Paperno’s notion of the ruin as a central notion in European civilization: The ruin is fresh because it was already ruined from the outset. Later on, the abolished constellations traveled to Berlin, where they were on show in a window storefront in a gallery space where it would be the last exhibition before its eventual folding up, or on the Danish island of Møn, a biosphere reserve in the Baltic sea, loosely connected to another island, Zealand, with irregular transportation.  

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

In these precarious, remote, vanishing, half-real sites, the witness to the constellations, is forced to reflect on the irrational infinity of space as such, and in the words of Schaesberg discussing Paperno’s star maps: “Reflective moods inevitably set in when one contemplates the constellations, but Paperno’s overall concept of this series — including single stars, star maps, and constellations, not to mention still lifes with globes — conjures up the Thracian maid’s laughter when Thales of Miletus fell into the well, the epitome of disdain for astronomy’s endeavors, and hints at today’s amazing awareness that we human beings, in a remote corner of the boundless universe, are terribly alone.” These empty and half-empty interiors of the pictorial space, fragile and tense, make us dwell in a world of wonder: It is a world without nature, abandoned, and yet filled with our own specters.

In the spring of 2020, as the abolished constellations in their single individual panels, rested alone in a studio, in the center of Moscow, after their unlikely argonautic travels, still incomplete, the world closed down on us, and we became separated not only from each other, but also from our world, perhaps indefinitely. Unsure whether the purification of Circe would be enough to bring us from Aeaea to Thessaly, for the first time in our lifetimes, we wandered in the silent dark. And perhaps then we remembered the lives of those early humans, who spent long nights under the stars, around a bonfire, telling each other the stories of Jason and Odysseus, under different names, giving new names to Sirius and the Bear, as if they had never been named before. I then interrogated one of the abolished constellations, the “Machina Electrica” (d. 1800), hanging on my walls: Will the night sky still be there if we stopped looking? An answer came from the Odyssey, a year and a half later, on the shores of Seleucia Pieria, during a clear night: ἥ τ᾽ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τ᾽ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει / She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion.

Alexandra Paperno. Grey Sun, 2003. ‘Self-Love Among the Ruins’ exhibition view, curated by Ekaterina Inozemtseva. Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow, 2018. Courtesy Smart Art.

Bibliography

  • John C. Barentine, The Lost Constellations: A History of Obsolete, Extinct, or Forgotten Star Lore, Springer, Praxis Series, 2016 
  • Margalit Finkelberg, “She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion”: Ancient Criticism and Exegesis of Od. 5.274 = Il. 18.488”, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 44 (2004), p. 231-244
  • Theodossiou, E., Manimanis, V. N., Mantarakis, P., & Dimitrijevic, M. S., “Astronomy and Constellations in the Iliad and Odyssey”, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Vol. 14, No. 1, p. 22 – 30 (2011)
  • Alexandra Paperno & Katya Inozemtseva, “Self-Love Among the Ruins: A Conversation between Katya Inozemtseva & Alexandra Paperno”, in Alexandra Paperno. Self Love Among the Ruins, Ad Marginem Press, 2019, p. 6-23
  • Petrus Schaesberg, “Alexandra Paperno: Star Maps”, in Alexandra Paperno: Star Maps, National Center for Contemporary Arts Moscow, 2007, p. 5-14

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He’s also tweeting about Classics, continental philosophy, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece. He’s the co-editor of Perambulation.

Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

Thomas Aquinas, Letter on a Method of Study

Because you have asked me, Ioannes, my dearest companion in Christ, in what manner it is proper for you to study in acquiring a treasury of knowledge, such a plan is handed on from me to you: that you should choose to enter through little streams, and not suddenly into the sea, because it is proper that one come gradually through the easier things to the more difficult ones.

This is, therefore, my advice and your instruction. I order you to be slow in speech and slow in acceding to the mouthpiece. Embrace purity of conscience. Do not allow yourself to be free for speech. You should frequently esteem the wine cellar if you wish to be brought into it. Present yourself as lovable to everyone. Don’t look at all deeply into the deeds of others. Don’t show yourself as very familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and offers material for subtraction from study. Don’t in any way get yourself embroiled in secular words or deeds. Don’t forget to follow the footsteps of the holy and the good. Don’t consider from whom you are hearing something, but commend to memory whatever good is spoken.

Make sure that you understand what you read and hear. Make yourself certain about doubtful things. Try to store up whatever you can in the wardrobe of your mind as if you wanted to fill up a jar. Don’t seek things higher than your station. Following these steps, you will profer and lead forth the useful blooms and fruits on the vine of the God of Heavenly Hosts as long as you live. If you will have followed all of this eagerly, you will be able to attain what you affect.

St-thomas-aquinas.jpg

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas

Scholastic Thought to Dull the Mind

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion:

Book I, Chapter I

On the Origin of the Arts

“Of all the things to be sought in this world, the first is wisdom, in which the form of the perfect good consists. Wisdom illuminates a person so that he may know himself, who was similar to others when he did not understand that he was made before others. Indeed, the immortal soul, illumined by wisdom, looks back upon its origin and recognizes how indecent it is, so that it seeks beyond itself for something for which that which it itself is could be enough. It is read on the tripod of Apollo, ‘gnoti sauton,’ that is, know thyself, because unsurprisingly if a person is not unremembering of his own origin, he may recognize everything which is subject to change, though it be nothing.

The approved opinion among philosophers holds that the spirit is composed from all parts of nature. The Timaeus of Plato formed “actuality” out of divided and undivided and mixed substance, and in the same way out of the same and diverse nature, and a mixed nature from both. For it catches both the initial elements and those things which follow the initial elements, because it comprehends the invisible causes of things through its intelligence, and it collects the visible forms of actual things through its sense impressions, and once it has been divided, it collects movement into two spheres, because it either moves out of the senses to sensible things, or it ascends to invisible things through intelligence. Then, pulling the similarities of things to itself it circles back, and this is because the same mind, which can take universal things, is put together from every substance and nature, because it represents the figure of similitude. For, it was the Pythagorean belief that similar things are comprehended by similar things, as clearly the rational soul could in no way comprehend all things unless it were composed of all things. In support of this, someone says

‘We comprehend the earth with our earthly being, the aether with flame, humor with liquid, and the air with our breath.’

LIBER PRIMUS

CAPUT I

De origine artium.

Omnium expetendorum prima est sapientia, in qua perfecti boni forma consistit. sapientia illuminat hominem ut seipsum agnoscat, qui ceteris similis fuit cum se prae ceteris factum esse non intellexit. [741D] immortalis quippe animus sapientia illustratus respicit principium suum et quam sit indecorum agnoscit, ut extra se quidquam quaerat, cui quod ipse est, satis esse poterat. scriptum legitur in tripode Apollinis: gnoti seauton, id est, cognosce te ipsum, quia nimirum homo si non originis suae immemor esset, omne quod mutabilitati obnoxium est, quam sit nihil, agnosceret. probata apud philosophos sententia animam ex cunctis naturae partibus asserit esse compactam. et Timaeus Platonis ex dividua et individua mixtaque substantia, itemque eadem et diversa, et ex utroque commixta natura, quo universitas designatur, entelechiam formavit. [742A] ipsa namque et initia et quae initia consequuntur capit, quia et invisibiles per intelligentiam rerum causas comprehendit, et visibiles actualium formas per sensuum passiones colligit, sectaque in orbes geminos motum glomerat, quia sive per sensus ad sensibilia exeat sive per intelligentiam ad invisibilia ascendat. ad seipsam rerum similitudines trahens regyrat, et hoc est quod eadem mens, quae universorum capax est, ex omni substantia atque natura, quo similitudinis repraesentet figuram, coaptatur. Pythagoricum namque dogma erat similia similibus comprehendi, ut scilicet anima rationalis nisi ex omnibus composita foret, nullatenus omnia comprehendere posset, [742B] secundum quod dicit quidam:

Terram terreno comprehendimus, aethera flammis, Humorem liquido, nostro spirabile flatu.

Read Everything, and Attend Every Lecture!

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13 (11-12th Century CE)

“There is no one to whom it has been granted to know everything, but at the same time there is no one who has not chanced to receive some special gift from nature. The prudent reader, then, listens to everyone and reads everything, and spurns no writing, no person, no learning. He seeks from all without discrimination what he sees is lacking in himself, and considers not how much he knows, but how much he does not know. Here, they note that saying of Plato, ‘I prefer to learn everything reverently, rather than to insert my own ideas shamelessly.’ For, why do you blush to learn and feel no shame in ignorance? The first is a greater disgrace than the second. Or, why do you make pretensions to the highest claims when you toss about in the dregs? You should consider, instead, what your abilities are able to accomplish. He approaches the problem best who does so in proper order. Many people, in trying to make a leap, simply fall head-first. Therefore, avoid excessive haste. In this way, you will arrive more quickly to wisdom. Learn gladly what you do not know from everyone, because humility can make common to you what nature has made each person’s private property. You will be wiser than all if you wish to learn from everyone; those who receive gifts from everyone become wiser than everyone.

You should therefore hold no knowledge as worthless, because all knowledge is good. If you have the time, you should not refuse to at least give every writing a once-over. If you find no profit in it, you at least do not waste anything, especially since there is in my opinion no writing which does not at least propose something worthy of being sought, if it is read in a proper spot and order. If a piece of writing does not have anything particularly special about it, the diligent examiner of words will latch on to something not found elsewhere – and the more rare it is, the more delight he will feel.”

nemo est cui omnia scire datum sit, neque quisquam rursum cui aliquid speciale a natura accepisse non contigerit. prudens igitur lector omnes libenter audit, omnia legit, non scripturam, non personam, non doctrinam spernit. indifferenter ab omnibus quod sibi deesse videt quaerit, nec quantum sciat, sed quantum ignoret, considerat. hinc illud Platonicum aiunt: Malo aliena verecunde discere, quam mea impudenter ingerere. cur enim discere erubescis, et nescire non verecundaris? pudor iste maior est illo. aut quid summa affectas cum tu iaceas in imo? considera potius quid vires tuae ferre valeant. aptissime incedit, qui incedit ordinate. [774B] quidam dum magnum saltum facere volunt, praecipitium incidunt. noli ergo nimis festinare. hoc modo citius ad sapientiam pertinges. ab omnibus libenter disce quod tu nescis, quia humilitas commune tibi facere potest quod natura cuique proprium fecit. sapientior omnibus eris, si ab omnibus discere volueris. qui ab omnibus accipiunt, omnibus ditiores sunt.

nullam denique scientiam vilem teneas, quia omnis scientia bona est. nullam, si vacat, scripturam vel saltem legere contemnas. si nihil lucraris, nec perdis aliquid, maxime cum nulla scriptura sit, secundum meam aestimationem, quae aliquid expetendum non proponat, si convenienti loco et ordine tractetur; [774C] quae non aliquid etiam speciale habeat, quod diligens verbi scrutator alibi non inventum, quanto rarius, tanto gratius carpat.

Paging Dr. Isidore

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 6.14 (go here for the full text):

Previously, librarii were called bibliopolas, because the Greeks call a book a biblion. The same people are called both librarii and antiquarians, but librarii are those who copy out both old and new things, while antiquarians are those who write out only the old, from which fact they derive their name. The scribe has received this name from writing (scribendo), expressing their duty with the quality of the word.

The scribe’s tools are the reed and the quill, because it is from these tools that words are fashioned on the page. But the reed comes from a plant, while the quill comes from a bird; its tip is divided into two, with its unity preserved throughout its whole form. I think that this is on account of the mystery rite and signifies the Old and New Testaments on its two points, by which the sacramen of the word is expressed as it pours forth from the blood of the Passion.

The reed (calamus) is so called because it lays down its liquid. For this reason, among sailors the word calare means “to set down”. The quill (penna) however, gets its name from hanging (pendendo), that is to say, from flying. It is, as I have said, proper to birds.

The sheets (foliae) of books are so called either from their similarity to the leaves of trees, or because they are made from folles, that is, from the hides which are typically taken from slain animals. The parts of these are called pages (paginae) because they are joined together (compingantur) in turn.

Verses are so called by the common people because the ancients used to write in the same way that they ploughed the land. At first, they drew the stylus from left to right, and then they turned it around on the following line, and then the succeeding line was again written from left to right. Rustic people still call these things verses. A scheda is a page which is still being corrected and not yet put back into the books. This is a Greek word, just like tomus.

Boustrophedon - Wikimedia Commons
An example of the boustrophedon mode of writing which Isidore describes here.

DE LIBRARIIS ET EORVM INSTRVMENTIS. Librarios antea bibliopolas dictos. Librum enim Graeci BIBLON vocant. Librarii autem iidem et antiquarii vocantur: sed librarii sunt qui et nova scribunt et vetera; antiquarii, qui tantummodo vetera, unde et nomen sumpserunt. Ab scribendo autem scriba nomen accepit, officium exprimens vocabuli qualitate. Instrumenta scribae calamus et pinna. Ex his enim verba paginis infiguntur; sed calamus arboris est, pinna avis; cuius acumen in dyade dividitur, in toto corpore unitate servata, credo propter mysterium, ut in duobus apicibus Vetus et Novum Testamentum signaretur, quibus exprimitur verbi sacramentum sanguine Passionis effusum. Dictus autem calamus quod liquorem ponat. Vnde et apud nautas calare ponere dicitur. Pinna autem a pendendo vocata, id est volando. Est enim, ut diximus, avium. Foliae autem librorum appellatae sive ex similitudine foliorum arborum, seu quia ex follibus fiunt, id est ex pellibus, qui de occisis pecudibus detrahi solent; cuius partes paginae dicuntur, eo quod sibi invicem conpingantur. Versus autem vulgo vocati quia sic scribebant antiqui sicut aratur terra. A sinistra enim ad dexteram primum deducebant stilum, deinde convertebantur ab inferiore, et rursus ad dexteram versus; quos et hodieque rustici versus vocant. Scheda est quod adhuc emendatur, et necdum in libris redactum est; et est nomen Graecum, sicut et tomus.

Wax Attack

Isidore, Etymologiae 6.9:

On Wax Tablets:

Wax tablets are the material of literature, the nurses of the young, they themselves

Give intelligence to the youth, and the beginnings of their sense,

the study of which the Greeks are said to be the first to have handed down. For the Greeks and the Etruscans first wrote with iron on wax tablets; later, the Romans ordered that no one should have an iron stylus. On this account, it used to be said among the scribes, ‘Don’t cut into the wax with iron.’ Later, it was established that they write in was with bones, as Atta speaking in the Satire,

Let us turn the plough in the wax and draw the furrough with a point of bone.

What is called graphium in Greek is called scriptorium in Latin; for GRAFE is writing (scriptura).

Ancient Roman Tablets Reveal Voices of the Earliest Londoners ...

DE CERIS. Cerae litterarum materies, parvulorum nutrices, ipsae (Dracont. Satisf. 63):

Dant ingenium pueris, primordia sensus.

Quarum studium primi Graeci tradidisse produntur. Graeci autem et Tusci primum ferro in ceris scripserunt; postea Romani iusserunt ne graphium ferreum quis haberet. [2] Vnde et apud scribas dicebatur: ‘Ceram ferro ne caedito.’ Postea institutum ut cera ossibus scriberent, sicut indicat Atta in Satura dicens (12):

Vertamus vomerem

in cera mucroneque aremus osseo.

Graphium autem Graece, Latine scriptorium dicitur. Nam GRAFE scriptura est.

Half Baconed Arguments

Roger Bacon, Opus Maius 1.1:

There are four exceptionally great obstacles to comprehending the truth, which impede every wise person, and hardly allow anyone to arrive at a true claim to wisdom. These are, to wit, the example of fragile and unworthy authority, the endurance of custom, the perception of the inexperienced mob, and the hiding of one’s own ignorance with a display of apparent wisdom. Every person is involved with these, every station of life is occupied by them. Indeed, anyone you meet in their particular arts of life and study and every kind of business uses the three worst arguments for the same conclusion: ‘this was exemplified by our ancestors,’ ‘this is customary,’ and ‘this has become common, and therefore should be maintained.’

Image result for roger bacon

Quatuor vero sunt maxima comprehendendae veritatis offendicula, quae omnem quemcumque sapientem impediunt, et vix aliquem permittunt ad verum titulum sapientiae pervenire: videlicet fragilis et indignae auctoritatis exemplum, consuetudinis diuturnitas, vulgi sensus imperiti, et propriae ignorantiae occultatio cum ostentatione sapientiae apparentis. His omnis homo involvitur, omnis status occupatur. Nam quilibet in singulis artibus vitae et studii et omnis negotii tribus pessimis ad eandem conclusionem utitur argumentis, scilicet, hoc exemplificatum est per maiores, hoc consuetum est, hoc vulgatum est; ergo tenendum. Sed oppositum conclusionis longe melius sequitur ex praemissis, sicut per auctoritatem et experientiam et rationem multipliciter probabo.

Instruction vs. Art

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 1.1:

Instruction (disciplina) received its name from learning (discendo): for this reason, it can also be called knowledge (scientia), because to know (scire) is derived from to learn (discere), because no one knows something if they have not learned it. Alternatively, it is called disciplina because it is learned in its fullness (discitur plena). Art however is so called because it consists of strict (artis) precepts and rules. Others say that this word is derived from the Greeks, from arete, that is, from virtue, which they called knowledge.

Plato and Aristotle wanted to establish this difference between art and instruction, saying that art (ars) consists of those things which can come about in an alternative way; but instruction (disciplina) deals with those things which cannot be otherwise than they are. For when something is discussed in true disputations, it is instruction; but when something similar to the truth and depending on conjecture is under discussion, it has the name of art.

Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg

DE DISCIPLINA ET ARTE. [1] De disciplina et arte. Disciplina a discendo nomen accepit: unde et scientia dici potest. Nam scire dictum a discere, quia nemo nostrum scit, nisi qui discit. Aliter dicta disciplina, quia discitur plena. [2] Ars vero dicta est, quod artis praeceptis regulisque consistat. Alii dicunt a Graecis hoc tractum esse vocabulum ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρετῆς, id est a virtute, quam scientiam vocaverunt. [3] Inter artem et disciplinam Plato et Aristoteles hanc differentiam esse voluerunt, dicentes artem esse in his quae se et aliter habere possunt; disciplina vero est, quae de his agit quae aliter evenire non possunt. Nam quando veris disputationibus aliquid disseritur, disciplina erit: quando aliquid verisimile atque opinabile tractatur, nomen artis habebit.